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Eastern Promises

Date posted: 01.02.2011

British born Chinese film-maker and screenwriter Jo Ho is the creator of the ground-breaking and critically acclaimed BBC show Spirit Warriors.

Aimed for the younger audiences, Spirit Warriors is loosely inspired by Eastern myths and legends and packed with action and special effects. The show, which aired in early 2010, has now been nominated for the Broadcast Awards in the Best Children's Programme category. The winners of the Awards, which recognise the best of national TV, will be announced on 2 February.

Jo, who wrote and directed the PULSE-produced short film Monkey Nut Tales, has since carved a career as a successful screenwriter and script consultant. Last year, she received the Women in Film & Television New Talent Award and was also nominated for a Cultural Diversity Network Award in the Best Breakthrough Production Talent category.

Jo tells us about her new projects, breaking boundaries as a British Chinese female working in film and TV and the thrill of seeing Spirit Warriors recognised.

How do you feel to see Spirit Warriors nominated for a Broadcast Award alongside well-known children characters such as The Gruffalo?

Amazed and delighted. The other nominees in this category are all exceptional so I'm thrilled that we've been recognised for our efforts. Getting Spirit Warriors made was a real battle due to the expense and ambition of the project.  As you can imagine, fantasies set within a mythical world don't come cheap, not to mention the difficulty in producing one with martial arts.  As a children's show, the list of rules and regulations are as long as my arm.  Then we had the added bonus of extensive CGI - the amount of work required to create just one full CG character (Dragon mentor, Shen) is astounding. I could go on but I won't.  Suffice to say, we're all delighted the series has been recognised in this way.

Spirit Warriors
has been praised for its imaginative story-telling and impressive special effects. What was your ambition when you set out to create the series and how did you approach writing for a younger audience?

First and foremost, I wanted to create an exciting, emotional and empowering high concept series for children, at the same time I wanted to delve into some of the beliefs and myths within my culture, and make them accessible for a UK audience.  A 'modern East meets West kick-ass' story.  I grew up in this country hardly ever seeing any stories or faces that reflected my own and in thirty or so years, it hasn't really changed much, so I wanted to address this within my work too.

As for writing for a younger audience, the important thing is not to talk down to them.  I wrote my episodes for the higher age range of the CBBC audience, with the kind of snappy dialogue that I loved in shows like Buffy but that didn't stop lots of young kids loving it.  Our youngest fan that I've heard of is three.  They might not get everything, but they're enjoying what they see.

You are credited with being the first Chinese person in the UK to have successfully created an original television drama series and Spirit Warriors was the first UK TV drama series with a predominantly East Asian cast. Have you ever seen yourself as a trailblazer?

We all want to make a difference and to count.  I'm one of those people who is always striving to do better, to make a bigger difference through my work - if that makes me a trailblazer then I'll happily accept the title!

PULSE-produced Monkey Nut Tales was your second short, which went on to screen at several film festivals including the BFI London Film Festival. What are your memories of working on the short and the journey that followed?

Shooting Monkey Nut Tales was one of the happiest times I've had. I had a great crew and cast to work with, everyone was incredibly nice and supportive. Being able to see a project through from concept to the final edit is so fulfilling. The sense of achievement. When Monkey... screened at the BFI London Film Festival - that was a very surreal moment for me, seeing my film up there on the same screen where I had watched so many amazing films before.

Very shortly after Monkey... was made, Spirit Warriors was picked up by CBBC for development which then took the next four years of my life. I've been working since then, on both hired and spec projects. It's actually all gone by in a blur.

Following Spirit Warriors, you were hired as a story consultant for BBC Worldwide and you are in development on several original feature screenplays and a supernatural teen series. Can you tell us anything about these projects?

The BBC Worldwide series is called Bishaash. A supernatural, 'Buffyesque' series shot in Bangladesh. I worked on six of the episodes, helping to come up with the storylines and shaping them into structured scripts. As a massive Buffy fan, this was right up my street. After this, I was hired to write two feature screenplays, Shatter, an action/thriller set in New York City for one of the producers of Rescue Dawn, and Glow, a supernatural romance for the Twilight crowd set in New England. It was a blast writing both of these very different movies.  I loved changing up my writing style to suit the genre. I channelled my inner boy to write Shatter.

I'm in the middle of talks on a few of my projects including my first feature film, but as it's all currently happening, I can't really say much about them, but I can say it's a pretty exciting time.

Aside from film and TV projects, you are writing your first novel, a sci-fi adventure aimed for the young adult market. Tell us about that.

I've written the first ten chapters and have found the entire process pretty freeing as I'm finally able to write what my characters are thinking and feeling, something you can't do in screenplays. The book has had to go on the back burner for now due to my other commitments but I'm hoping to get the first draft finished this year.

Have you got plans to attend the Broadcast Awards ceremony on 2 February?

Yes, I'll be there with all my limbs crossed!



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